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PRESERVING IRAQ

Talk of turkeys praying for an early Christmas, someone in the United States of America’s establishment needs to have his head examined for getting an all-too-willing Turkey to send its troops into Iraq. Does no one read any history in the US government'

I have an interesting answer to that one from James A. Leach (Republican member to the House of Representatives, Iowa) in his statement before the US House of Representatives on October 2, 2003, Mahatma Gandhi’s 134th birth anniversary, when I happened to be on the Hill in Washington. Leach said, “American policy-makers generally reason in a pragmatic, future-oriented manner. Much of the rest of the world,” he perceptively pointed out, “reasons by historical analogy.”

So, here goes — an encapsulated primer on Arab-Turk relations spanning 500 years in under 1,000 words. Surely, even the state department — if not the dunderheads at the Pentagon — should be able to absorb that'

All of Iraq, as indeed much of the Arab world, was part of the Turkish empire — the Caliphate — after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. When, four-and-a-half centuries later, the Caliph was deprived of his empire at Versailles for having supported the wrong side in the European civil war of 1914-18 (aka World War II), the Brits and the French, top dogs of the day, carved up between themselves the Arab rump of the Turkish empire any which way to suit their imperial, commercial and security interests.

Through the Treaty of Sevres (August 10, 1920), Kuwait was hived off from the Basra wilaya (vilayet in Turkish, meaning province) to be constituted into an independent emirate because its oil reserves were known to be vast and vital to Britain’s post-war economic recovery. The foreign secretary of British India, Sir Percy Cox, was given the delightful task of conjuring out of the void a new nation called Iraq in one of the world’s most ancient seats of civilization, Mesopotamia.

Not satisfied with the two agriculturally rich but relatively oil-poor wilayas initially proposed, he added a third — the northern wilaya of Mosul in present-day Iraq which borders Turkey, an Arab-minority area, home to the largest single group of Kurds in the world and host to a large number of Turkomans around the biggest bonanza of them all, the brimming oil-fields of Kirkuk. Riding roughshod over the weak protests of a Caliphate in terminal decline, Sir Percy annexed the wilaya to his creation — and that is the way it has been ever since: Iraq insisting that the Mosul wilaya is an integral and inseparable part of their country; Turkey nursing the grievance that it was unfairly deprived of what is indubitably its own; and the bulk of the locals aspiring to independence in the spirit of “a plague on both houses”.

No wonder then that the Turkish parliament has only too happily assented to the first step towards what might yet prove to be the recovery of Iraqi territory it covets. This, of course, is the opposite of the official Turkish position, which is so coy as to affirm that far from being deployed in the Mosul wilaya, Turkish troops will do their duties “elsewhere” in Iraq. The Iraqis are less than sanguine. India’s former ambassador to Ankara, Gajendra Singh, at present head of the Bucharest-based Foundation of Indo-Turkic Studies (www.tarafits. com), points out that: “Almost all political leaders, including those from the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party), media writers and others have openly reiterated Turkey’s claim on Kirkuk.” Which, of course, is why the Iraqi governing council has unanimously affirmed its opposition to Turkish troops in Iraq: “The governing council’s stand is against the presence of troops from neighbouring countries without exception, and Turkey is one of those countries.” Or even more bluntly in the words of council-member Mahmoud Othman, “The council is unanimous in issuing a communiqué against the sending of Turkish forces to Iraq.” Indeed, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two major political formations fighting for independence (or, at any rate, autonomy) for Kurdistan and represented on the Iraqi governing council, has objected even to Turkish troops transiting through their area.

The Turks believe they were cheated of their dues after they made available the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey for US and NATO aeroplanes all through the Cold War and then, vitally, during the Kuwait war. They had expected to be rewarded with recognition of their claims to Kirkuk. Instead, George Bush Senior baulked at overthrowing Saddam. I was witness to a remarkable assessment the morning after the mother of all battles suddenly wound up, “not with a bang but a whimper”. Rajiv Gandhi was on mission in Tehran that day and I was his note-taker. At the meeting with Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Rajiv opened the conversation with the question, “After Saddam, who'” Rafsanjani replied, “Saddam.” Thinking he had not been properly understood in translation, Rajiv repeated, “I mean, Your Excellency, now that Saddam Hussein has been so comprehensively defeated, whom will the Americans put in his stead'” To which, Rafsanjani patiently explained, “The Americans will not overthrow Saddam Hussein because he is the only one in the region capable of controlling the Kurds. If Saddam goes, Kurdistan cannot be stopped. And so Turkey will lose a third of its territory. The Americans need Turkey too much to patrol the soft under-belly of the Soviet Union to let Turkey disintegrate. Therefore, the Americans will keep Saddam in power.” It was a remarkably prescient assessment. For, thanks to Bush Senior, Saddam remained — and wreaked his vengeance on the Shias of the Euphrates and the Kurds of the north, exactly as Rafsanjani had predicted.

In the circumstances, bringing in Turkish soldiers as the largest contingent after the US and the UK, much larger than the remaining coalition forces combined, is to begin the process of unravelling the weaved-up fabric of Iraq. It is to invite on Iraq the horror that befell Yugoslavia when, first, the Austrians tempted Slovenia into seceding and then the Germans got their slice of the cake with Croatia. The Serbian reaction was inevitable and it was the hapless Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina who had to bear the brutal consequences of the secession of Slovenia and Croatia. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was virtually at the same time and in the same circumstances that Yugoslavia and Iraq were born. Both were founded as composite states: multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-linguistic. India has had a tremendous stake in the integrity of Yugoslavia and Iraq because our nationhood is founded, like theirs, on unity in diversity. Unlike the narrow exclusivisms of Europe, which equate ethnicity with nationality and in consequence have spawned 43 nations in a territory comparable to India’s alone, or the “melting pot” inclusivism of the US (which, within a generation or two, renders all immigrants as American as Momma’s apple pie — witness Bobby Jindal), India, Yugoslavia and Iraq represent an alternative mode of civilization where neither ethnicity nor uniformity makes for nationhood, but where unity lies in the glorious celebration of diversity. Preserving Iraq is, thus, important for preserving India. Therefore, no thinking Indian can view with equanimity the induction of Turkish troops into Iraq, which might prove the first pebble in the coming avalanche to smash to smithereens the multi-coloured mosaic of Iraq’s contemporary nationhood.

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